Nuclear Industry Sees Its Survival In The Need For Carbon Capture

Nuclear advocates see a vast market for reactors in carbon capture and carbon-based products, not only for the next generation of reactors in development, but also for the aging dinosaurs they evolved from.
“Carbon products represent the potential for an entirely new market for nuclear energy,” said Canon Bryan, the CFO of Terrestrial Energy, which is developing a reactor that uses liquid uranium fluoride fuel.
“Nuclear energy has traditionally been constrained to the province of electric-power generation, and that’s been fine, and maybe a little bit of desalination, but these types of industrial products and industrial generation represent new markets for the next generation of nuclear technologies.”
Among those carbon products is sustainable aviation fuel, currently made mostly from biomass. The nuclear industry would derive the carbon for that fuel instead from smokestacks, likely at cement plants, and eventually, if costs drop sufficiently, from direct-air capture.
Some advocates also see a new market for the existing reactors that are limping toward obsolescence. The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in San Luis Obispo, California, for example, is slated to shut down in 2024 and 2025.
“If the waste heat from that plant was being combined with electricity production you could be removing 20 million tons per year of carbon from the atmosphere,” said Kirsty Gogan, co-founder of Energy for Humanity, at an EarthX panel on Wednesday.
“Right now what’s happening is these big gigawatt-scale depreciating assets—they’re making baseload, clean, emissions-free power, but we’re just throwing away the heat, right? Those nuclear plants could be more useful, making a big contribution toward that responsibility we all have to go negative.
“We all try to be neutral, but it ain’t good enough. We have to take responsibility for the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere and go negative.”
Nuclear advocates see the heat from advanced reactors not only as a way to capture carbon, but as a way to escape some of the high capital costs that have crippled the nuclear industry in the U.S.
Reactors designed to produce just heat for carbon capture won’t incur the capital cost of the equipment that converts heat into electricity, Bryan said, “both creating a new life for next-generation nuclear and also doing a public service at the same time, and making a profit for everybody involved. So I think it’s a benevolent cycle, potentially.”
Modular reactors may also be cheaper, Gogan said, because they can be manufactured in factories on a standard model:
“If you move away from the sort of low-productivity construction approach to a high-productivity manufacturing environment—standardized products, designed for manufacture and assembly, designed for reuse so you don’t redesign your product every time, very high productivity manufacturing and delivery—you end up with really short construction schedules, a lot of certainty around budget and schedule and ultimately optimized outcomes, as you’d expect to see with any standardized manufactured product.”
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